Women and Gender in Islam

Women and Gender in Islam : Historical Roots of a Modern Debate

4.09 (1,386 ratings by Goodreads)
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"Destined to become a classic. . . . It gives [Muslim women] back our rightful place, at the center of our histories."-Rana Kabbani, The Guardian

"[O]ne of the best studies of Islam's discourse on gender."-Hans Kundnani, Wall Street Journal

"This book stands out as particularly original, insightful and sensitive."-Foreign Affairs

Are Islamic societies inherently oppressive to women? Is the trend among Islamic women to appear once again in veils and other traditional clothing a symbol of regression or an effort to return to a "pure" Islam that was just and fair to both sexes? In this book Leila Ahmed adds a new perspective to the current debate about women and Islam by exploring its historical roots, tracing the developments in Islamic discourses on women and gender from the ancient world to the present.

In order to distinguish what was distinctive about the earliest Islamic doctrine on women, Ahmed first describes the gender systems in place in the Middle East before the rise of Islam. She then focuses on those Arab societies that played a key role in elaborating the dominant Islamic discourses about women and gender: Arabia during the period in which Islam was founded; Iraq during the classical age, when the prescriptive core of legal and religious discourse on women was formulated; and Egypt during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when exposure to Western societies led to dramatic social change and to the emergence of new discourses on women. Throughout, Ahmed not only considers the Islamic texts in which central ideologies about women and gender developed or were debated but also places this discourse in its social and historical context. Her book is thus a fascinating survey of Islamic debates and ideologies about women and the historical circumstances of their position in society, the first such discussion using the analytic tools of contemporary gender studies.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 155 x 235 x 19mm | 448g
  • United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • notes, index
  • 0300055838
  • 9780300055832
  • 102,277

Back cover copy

In this book Leila Ahmed adds a new perspective to the current debate about women and Islam by exploring its historical roots, tracing the developments in Islamic discourses on women and gender from the ancient world to the present.
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Table of contents

PART I: The Pre-Islamic Middle East Chapter 1 Mesopotamia Chapter 2 The Mediterranean Middle East PART II: Founding Discourses Chapter 3 Women and the Rise of Islam Chapter 4 The Transitional Age Chapter 5 Elaboration of the Founding Discourses Chapter 6 Medieval Islam PART III: New Discourses Chapter 7 Social and Intellectual Change Chapter 8 The Discourse of the Veil Chapter 9 The First Feminists Chapter 10 Divergent Voices Chapter 11 The Struggle for the Future Conclusion Notes Index.
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Review quote

"Elegantly argued and intertwining at least three subjects of great contemporary interest - Islam, feminism and postcolonialism - it is certainly both timely and thought provoking."-Cornelia Sorabji, Times Higher Education Supplement



"[O]ne of the best studies of Islam's discourse on gender-an aspect of Muslim culture many non-Muslims find particularly difficult to understand."-Hans Kundnani, Wall Street Journal




"Ahmed's rousing book is destined to become a classic. . . . It gives [Muslim women] back our rightful place, at the center of our histories."-Rana Kabbani, The Guardian

"A pathbreaking survey of Islamic discourse."-Publishers Weekly



"I would not hesitate to recommend this book as a good source of information."-Joyce Mokhesi-Parker, Africa World Review



"Clearly one of the book's enduring strengths is Leila Ahmed's genuine, as opposed to academic, concern (a distinction often lost on writers of Islam) that Muslim women, for too long the subject of inflated homilies or hollow gender confrontations, strike up their own debate-on grounds designed to suit rather than stifle."-Riffat Yusuf, Africa Events



"Leila Ahmed's beautiful style takes us back to antiquity and guides us through the ages; we are made to revisit the past through the eyes of a woman-an unusual and rather refreshing way to enquire into past societies. She possesses the skill and expertise to venture into such an arduous enterprise, her sharp mind allowing her to make perceptive remarks about Muslim men and the use and misuse of religion not just as a tool of social control, but also as a cultural system, as political discourse, a means of resistance at different historical junctures."-Dr. Rashida Hankin, Islamica



"[A] very thoughtful and very brave book. . . . Should be required reading not just for Muslim intellectuals and feminists, but also for those non-Muslims, particularly Western feminists and so-called experts, who scornfully dismiss Islam as 'sexist and bigoted.'"-Asian Times

"[An] exemplary case of in-depth historical survey. . . . Women's studies in general and Middle Eastern studies in particular are much enriched by [this] work, which should be included in the readings of all who wish to gain a sound understanding of Muslim women and politics in the Middle East."-Haleh Afshar, Third World Quarterly



"A meticulous historical analysis of the discourses on women and society in Islamic countries."-Ethnic and Racial Studies



"I read it in a sitting for the fascination and unexpectedness of the information."-Doris Lessing, Independent on Sunday

"This is a book that had to be written. This is a book that must be read. No other general survey of women and gender in Islam exists. I am deeply grateful to Leila Ahmed for giving us this book."-Catharine R. Stimpson



"This thoughtful and thought-provoking book should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the complexity of women's experience."-Elizabeth Fox-Genovese



"A signal contribution to the question of Islam and gender as well as a solid overview of the history of gender in the region. This is a highly original, well-researched book that explores a topic of great current interest in a responsible and enlightening fashion."-Judith Tucker



"A signal contribution to the question of Islam and gender as well as a solid overview of the history of gender in the region. This is a highly original, well-researched book that explores a topic of great current interest in a responsible and enlightening fashion."-Judith Tucker


"Ahmed's book is a serious and independent-minded analysis of its subject, the best-informed, most sympathetic and reliable one that exists today. It is most powerful and compelling in its absence of cliches and hedgings, and more than anyone before her Ahmed discusses women and gender in Islam as a lived and contested reality."-Edward W. Said
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About Leila Ahmed

Leila Ahmed is professor of women's studies and director of the Near Eastern Area Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and faculty associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.
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Rating details

1,386 ratings
4.09 out of 5 stars
5 42% (583)
4 34% (472)
3 18% (247)
2 3% (47)
1 3% (37)
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